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Follow You… Follow Me: Making Meaningful Connections with Twitter

Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 08:57 AM EDT

twitterRecently I attended the monthly “Grand Rapids Social Marketing Meet-Up“. These are casual gatherings where folks can listen, learn and discuss a variety of social media topics.

Following the featured presentation from local web design firm Spearia, attendees divided into three discussion groups. I joined the table talking about Twitter. One questioner from the group asked how to get folks to “follow” you. This lead to a discussion about Twitter culture and what to do (and not do) to encourage new relationships.

So you’ve become part of the twitter world. You set up your account and start following people like crazy. But you begin to get discouraged. Few are following you back and a fair number are actually blocking you from following them. What gives?

Are you “selling, selling, selling”? Even if you think your product or service will save the world, it is still (and even increasingly) our nature to disregard the “sales guy”. This is particularly true in social networking. Twitter is a great relationship builder, but that requires a two way interest in who you are, not just what you have to sell. If someone begins to follow me, I look at their profile and their tweeting history. If it’s largely a sales pitch (or anything that resembles one), I’m not following. Period.

Desperation isn’t pretty – Impressions from your “stats” Also, when someone begins following me, I look at their profile stats. Are you following 1000 people but only have 3 who follow you? This info-bit can create the perception that you’re a desperate to “collect” any friends and it doesn’t really matter who they are. It’s just a numbers game. It can also appear that others don’t value your contributions. So why should I? Quickly following a ton of folks when you first join Twitter can set up these negative perceptions – true or not. Start more slowly. Look for quality, not quantity. Choose to follow those whose content matters to you.

It isn’t all about you. Conversely, there is another perception about stat balance than can happen when you have lots of folks following you but you only follow a few. When I see this, I realize this person is not about building a relationship. This may make sense for rock stars, but to get the greatest benefit from social networking, you need to care about what others have to say, as well.

Getting to Know You: So now you have people you are following and some that are following you, but how do you turn those initial connections into fruitful relationships? A few suggestions that came up in the meet-up included:

1. Engage: Don’t just take in the info from others. Ask questions. Make a comment. Thank people when they begin to follow you. Actively interact so others will see that you are interested and care about what they care about.

2. Ask Advice: One attendee had a cool website to let folks check out and schedule tee times on a wide variety of golf courses. It was suggested that he ask his followers to tell him which for courses they have the most trouble getting a good tee times. People want to contribute meaningful info. Ask.

3. Retweet: When I receive a tweet that I feel is particularly helpful or provides a link to cool info that my friends and colleagues would appreciate, I use the re-tweet function and pass it on to my followers. Not only does this add value for friends who receive your re-tweet, but it tells the original source that you value their contribution. But a note of caution, use this tool with purpose. Simply re-tweeting everything is no more than junk mail and will quickly create a black mark on your Twitter reputation.

As my mom always said, is “to have a friend you have to be a friend”. A timeless piece advice that works in any social situation…including Twitter.